Throughout Africa, the U.S. presidential race is being viewed largely in terms of black and white. For the most part, black African leaders seem to favor overwhelmingly President Carter's reelection. However, the minority whites who run South Africa prefer Ronald Reagan.
The keys to this phenomenon are the Carter administration's support for the newly independent, black-majority government of Zimbabwe -- formerly white-ruled Rhodesia -- and the high-profile, critical stance the United States has taken against Pretoria's apartheid policies.
Challenger Reagan, on the other hand, is popular with white South Africans because of their fear of Soviet expansionism and resentment of international pressure to reform their segregationist policies.
"The ordinary South African does not regard Reagan as a lousy choice and I'll tell you why," said a high-ranking South African official, referring to his white constituents. "Carter with his human-rights ideas got a bad name in South Africa; he came down hard on us from a height and told us what to do and justified it in the name of human rights.
"But Reagan is presented in South Africa as a very tough man. He's not going to take any nonsense from the Russians. For the ordinary South African, for the first time in a number of years there would be a man [in the U.S. presidency] willing to stand up to the Soviets," the official explained. This is important, he added, "because we know the Soviet Union has designs on South Africa."
The United States is viewed here as being overly critical of apartheid, even though it has not exerted any major, specific pressure on Pretoria beyond supporting a U.N. arms embargo in October 1977.
At the same time, the Carter administration has sought an active partnership role for black governments in Western diplomatic efforts to solve the region's armed conflicts, notably in Zimbabwe and Namibia (Southwest Africa).
This has enhanced the diplomatic importance of these black governments compared to the previous role of white-minority governments in South Africa and what formerly was Rhodesia. Much of the improvement in U.S. ties to black Africa can be attributed to the role of the former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Andrew Young.
Carter was widely praised by black Africa for helping the British-sponsored Rhodesian peace talks by not recognizing the "internal settlement" worked out by the white Rhodesian government and moderate black leaders to the exclusion of the guerrilla movements.
The Carter administration then signaled that it could work with professed Marxists in the Third World by quickly reccognizing Zimbabwe's prime minister, Robert Mugabe, and approving aid to the new nation. Although the aid was not as much as Zimbabwe had hoped for, it was more than it has received from any other country.
A result of these policies has been closer and more cordial relations between Washington and numerous sub-Saharan African countries.
Carter became the first U.S. president to make official visits to black-ruled African nations, and he hosted many black rulers in Washington. Economic ties were strengthened -- Nigeria is now the second-leading exporter of oil to the United States -- and a friendly, though unofficial, relationship has even evolved with the Soviet-backed Marxist government of Angola.